THE FIRST THING TO UNDERSTAND about the so-called ‘Brexit’ debate is that Brexit is not the issue. As with any fundamental shock to an economy, EU exit will represent an opportunity to renegotiate the contours of economic power within our society, the distribution of wealth between wages and profits and much else beside. In whose favour, if anyone’s, exit works will depend on the outcome of this. What we need to demand - and here the title of Unite’s new document is exactly right - is Brexit on our terms.
‘We’ here are the vast majority of the population - dependent on wages or benefits, sensitive to the price of goods in the shops, black and white, male and female, old and young. The battle between hard and soft approaches to Brexit, focusing on things like whether Britain remains in the single market, is not our battle. The current debate is a family row between different sections of British capital, those more or less dependent on EU markets. Which approach will work best for us will depend on the highly unpredictable circumstances of the global economy at the time of exit, and does not deserve campaigning energy. Nor should we tie ourselves in knots over the niceties of Article 50.
The left’s time and resources would be better spent at the present time on campaigns centred on clear demands around which we can unite people. Free movement and the right of non-UK nationals to remain here after exit must be in first place. Similarly the defence of employment rights is essential. We should also start talking about protecting people from price increases after exit, using the occasion to challenge the norms of the free market and so shift the parameters of the debate.
How successful the left is at doing this will determine whether the next couple of years sees a carnival of reaction or the opening up of new possibilities. At the moment, the first looks much more likely. This only reinforces the importance of our getting to grips with these issues and acting effectively now. The possibility of a good outcome remains. Let’s seize the agenda and fight for an outcome that benefits the vast majority of people, not just in Britain but across the world.
Leeds Central CLP and member of UCU executive committee at Leeds University,